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Critical Pedagogy, Civil Disobedience, and Edtech

The majority of development in edtech is driven by the bureaucratic traditions of education more than the pedagogical ones.

If we object to the increasing standardization of education, how and where do we build sites of resistance? What strategies can we employ to guard ourselves and our students? What systems of privilege must we first dismantle?

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Critical Pedagogy, Civil Disobedience, and Edtech

  1. 1. Critical Pedagogy, Civil Disobedience, and Edtech Jesse Stommel @Jessifer
  2. 2. “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  3. 3. What is Pedagogy? Pedagogy is praxis, insistently perched at the intersection between the philosophy and the practice of teaching.
  4. 4. What is Critical Pedagogy? In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire argues against the banking model, in which education “becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.”
  5. 5. In place of the banking model, Freire advocates for “problem- posing education,” in which a classroom or learning environment becomes a space for asking questions — a space of cognition not information.
  6. 6. “As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.” ~ bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
  7. 7. My work has wondered at whether and how Critical Pedagogy translates into digital space. Can the necessary reflective dialogue flourish within Web-based tools, social media platforms, or learning management systems? What is digital agency? How can we build platforms that support learning across age, race, gender, culture, ability, geography? What are the specific affordances and limitations of technology toward these ends? What is Critical Digital Pedagogy?
  8. 8. The wondering at these questions is not particularly new. John and Evelyn Dewey write in Schools of To-Morrow, “Unless the mass of workers are to be blind cogs and pinions in the apparatus they employ, they must have some understanding of the physical and social facts behind and ahead of the material and appliances with which they are dealing.”
  9. 9. In the forward to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Shaull writes, “Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system [...] The paradox is that the same technology that does this to us also creates a new sensitivity to what is happening.”
  10. 10. The large-format blackboard was first used in the U.S. in 1801. The vacuum tube-based computer was introduced in 1946. In the 1960s, Seymour Papert began teaching the Logo programming language to children. The first Learning Management System, PLATO (Program Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), was developed in 1960.
  11. 11. After the introduction of the Radio Lecture in the 1930s, Lloyd Allen Cook warned, “This mechanizes education and leaves the local teacher only the tasks of preparing for the broadcast and keeping order in the classroom.”
  12. 12. Digital technologies have values coded into them in advance. Many tools are good only insofar as they are used. Tools and platforms that do dictate too strongly how we might use them, or ones that remove our agency by covertly reducing us and our work to commodified data, should be rooted out by a Critical Digital Pedagogy.
  13. 13. The Canvas CEO recently announced their “second growth initiative focused on analytics, data science and artificial intelligence. The code name for this initiative is DIG … We have the most comprehensive database on the educational experience in the globe. So given that information that we have, no one else has those data assets at their fingertips to be able to develop those algorithms and predictive models.”
  14. 14. Does Canvas educate students about IP and data privacy before collecting data? Can individual students opt out, no matter the university policy? Is there a single button students can click to remove all their data? If Canvas does monetize the data it has collected, whether permission was given or not, will the owners of that data be compensated? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking of all our edtech tools, and students should be part of this conversation.
  15. 15. CRITICAL TOOL EVALUATION EXERCISE 1. What assumption does the tool make about its users? What kind of relationships does it set up between teachers / students? 2. What assumptions does the tool make about learning and education? Does the tool attempt to dictate how our learning and teaching happen? How is this reflected in specific design and/or marketing choices? 3. What data must we provide to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthdate, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous? Who owns the data? Will others be able to use/copy/own our work there? 4. How accessible is the tool? For a blind student? For a hearing-impaired student? For a student with a learning disability? For introverts? For extroverts? Etc.
  16. 16. “The predation of the edtech industry only works if we don’t lift our heads to see it, raise our hands to change it, stand in its way.” ~ Sean Michael Morris, “To Go Far Enough”
  17. 17. Not all tools can be hacked to good use.
  18. 18. The Turnitin End-User Agreement is a blur of words and phrases separated by commas, of which ‘royalty-free, perpetual, world-wide, irrevocable’ are but a scary few. The rat-a-tat-tat of nouns, verbs, and adjectives is so bewildering that almost anyone would blindly click ‘agree’ just to avoid the deluge of legalese. But these words are serious and their ramifications pedagogical.
  19. 19. Turnitin has a “non- exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable license” to 1 billion student papers.
  20. 20. Turnitin was recently acquired for $1.75 billion. Of that, exactly $0 billion is going to the students who’ve fed the database for years. Meanwhile, Turnitin makes deals with public educational institutions, which help them collect more data, while Turnitin sells access to that data back to those institutions.
  21. 21. “Many of our colleagues are entrenched in an agonistic stance toward students in the aggregate: students are lazy, illiterate, anti- intellectual cheaters who must prove their worth to the instructor. Turnitin and its automated assessment of student writing is a tool for that proof.” ~ Rebecca Moore Howard
  22. 22. This problem is not just about Turnitin. It’s about the relationships public educational institutions enter into with technology companies. We should be skeptical of those companies, especially the ones that encourage us to be suspicious of our own students.
  23. 23. Remote proctoring tools can’t ensure that students will not cheat. Turnitin won’t make students better writers. The LMS or VLE can’t ensure that students will learn. All will, however, ensure that students feel more thoroughly policed. All will ensure that students (and teachers) are more compliant.
  24. 24. When our VLE or LMS reports how many minutes students have spent accessing a course, what do we do with that information? What will we do with the information when we also know the heart rate of students as they’re accessing (or not accessing) a course?
  25. 25. The bureaucracies of schooling flatten students, reducing them to rows in a spreadsheet and their work to columns.
  26. 26. Photo by flickr userVictoria Pickering Why do we attempt so often to resolve this...
  27. 27. … into this?
  28. 28. Photo by flickr user Shelly Grades are also a technology and a relatively recent invention. The first “official record” of a grading system was at Yale in 1785. The A-F system appears to have emerged in 1898 (with the “E” not disappearing until the 1930s) and the 100-point or percentage scale became common in the early 1900s. Letter grades were not widely used until the 1940s.
  29. 29. An “objective” system for grading was created for efficiency so that systematized schooling could scale. And we’ve designed technological tools in the 20th and 21st Centuries that have allowed us to scale further. Toward standardization and away from subjectivity, human relationships, and care.
  30. 30. The typical LMS or VLE is structured around the gradebook to the extent that all interactions are ultimately mediated by that one tool, even for the instructors who don’t use it.
  31. 31. I would argue that the majority of development in edtech is driven by the bureaucratic traditions of education more than the pedagogical ones. If John Dewey, Paulo Freire, or bell hooks made an LMS or VLE, it would look nothing like what currently exists.
  32. 32. Photo by flickr user Ranking. Metrics. Norming. Objectivity. Uniformity. Accreditation. Measurement. Rubrics. Outcomes. Quality. Data. Performance. Averages. Excellence. Inflation. Mastery. Standardization. Rigor.
  33. 33. “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine … if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
  34. 34. If we object to the increasing standardization of education, how and where do we build sites of resistance? What strategies can we employ to guard ourselves and our students? What systems of privilege must we first dismantle?
  35. 35. Some Data About Bias in Education: • Black girls are twelve times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended. • While Black children make up less than 20% of preschoolers, they make up more than half of out-of-school suspensions. • Teachers spend up to two thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls. When teachers ask questions they direct their gaze towards boys more often, especially when the questions are open-ended (In STEM fields). ~ Soraya Chemaly, “All Teachers Should Be Trained to Overcome Their Hidden Biases”
  36. 36. “We need to design our pedagogical approaches for the students we have, not the students we wish we had. This requires approaches that are responsive, inclusive, adaptive, challenging, and compassionate. And it requires institutions find more creative ways to support teachers and prepare them for the work of teaching. This is not a theoretical exercise — it is a practical one.” ~ Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Stommel, “Teaching the Students We Have Not the Students We Wish We Had”
  37. 37. “You cannot counter structural inequality with good will. You have to structure equality.” ~ Cathy N. Davidson
  38. 38. Photo by flickr user Fio A discussion of pedagogy needs to include a critical examination of our technologies, what they afford, who they exclude, how they're monetized, and what pedagogies they have already baked in. But it requires we also begin with a consideration of what we value, the kinds of relationships we want to develop with students, why we gather together in places like universities, and how humans learn.
  39. 39. This means we can’t presume to know the reasons students haven’t done the reading. Or craft laptop policies that make it impossible for disabled students to receive accommodation without having their disability made visible to an entire classroom. Or throw students (with nowhere else to go) out of their dorms over the holidays.
  40. 40. Critical Digital Pedagogy: 1. centers its practice on community and collaboration; 2. must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries; 3. will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices ; 4. must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education.
  41. 41. “Critical formative cultures are crucial in producing the knowledge, values, social relations and visions that help nurture and sustain the possibility to think critically, engage in political dissent, organize collectively and inhabit public spaces in which alternative and critical theories can be developed.” ~ Henry Giroux, “Thinking Dangerously: the Role of Higher Education in Authoritarian Times”
  42. 42. bell hooks writes, “for me this place of radical openness is a margin —a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a 'safe' place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.” For hooks, the risks we take are personal, professional, political. When she says that “radical openness is a margin,” she suggests it is a place of uncertainty, a place of friction, a place of critical thinking.
  43. 43. Radical openness isn’t a bureaucratic gesture. It demands our schools be spaces for relationships and dialogue. Far too many tools we’ve built for teaching are designed to make grading students convenient — or designed to facilitate the systematic observation of students and teachers by institutions. These are not dialogues.
  44. 44. (1) Front load support by hard-coding it into curricula. Design syllabi and course materials for humans, not machines. Use language that honors the complex humanity of students. Building radically open spaces in education
  45. 45. (2) For education to be innovative, at this particular moment, we don’t need to invest in technology. We need to invest in teachers. Building radically open spaces in education
  46. 46. (3) Practice self-care and support your contingent, adjunct, precarious, or otherwise marginalized colleagues. The work of education is hard. Building radically open spaces in education
  47. 47. (4) Start by trusting students. Ask them when and how they learn. Ask what barriers they face. Listen. Believe the answers. Building radically open spaces in education
  48. 48. “We often ignore the best resource for informed change, one that is right in front of our noses every day—our students, for whom the most is at stake.” ~ Martin Bickman, “Returning to Community and Praxis”